The next five weeks at Tsalteshi Trails feature eight scheduled ski races — encompassing everything from two races for some of the best skiers in the state, to a borough meet for high-schoolers, to numerous community races, to the culminating Tour of Tsalteshi on Feb. 17.
John Pothast is the chief of competition for Besh Cups 3 and 4, which feature some of the top skiers in the state and will be held Saturday and Sunday. Pothast, also a former board member of the Tsalteshi Trails Association and a current groomer of the trails, said this next five weeks continues a key evolution in the life of the trails.
When the trails began in 1990, a lot of use came from high school runners and skiers, with some community events mixed in. The summer of 2012 marked another big milestone, when Allie Ostrander started the five-race Salmon Run Series in the summer and a flurry of community biking and running races followed.
Now comes this heavy schedule of ski racing, with last winter seeing the start of both the Freezer Food Series and Tour of Tsalteshi to tip the race schedule to full.
“The people involved with Tsalteshi have done a really nice job,” Pothast said. “I really like where the trail system is going, where you have significant use on the trails year-round.”
Pothast also is on the board of Cross Country Alaska, which puts on the Besh Cup races that select Team Alaska for Junior Nationals and, in even years, for the Arctic Winter Games. Besh Cup races come to Tsalteshi once every two years, weather permitting.
At the first Besh Cup of this season in mid-December, five 2018 Olympians, four 2018 World Junior medalists and three 2018 NCAA All-Americans were present, according to the Anchorage Daily News. This weekend will not have that type of firepower as those top racers are in the thick of their seasons, but it still shows the type of racing that will happen.
Pothast said hosting a Besh Cup gives youth, or even adult skiers, the opportunity to experience racing at a high level.
“Whenever there’s a local race, there’s always a bigger turnout of kids to race,” Pothast said. “It gives local skiers an opportunity to compete at a different level than most of the high school races.”
Pothast also said the races show off Tsalteshi to a who’s who of cross-country aficionados in the state.
“We’ve put a lot of work into the trails and we really love to showcase what we’ve put together,” Pothast said. “There’s also the economic piece, getting 200 racers from around the state to spend a couple of nights in the local community.”
Saturday’s races are freestyle sprint races, starting at 10 a.m. with qualifications and going all day, culminating with the finals. These races take place on the soccer fields and sprint hills right by Skyview Middle School, so spectators can see every move.
“If you want to get out and see the elite skiers in the state, this is a good way to do it,” Pothast said.
Sunday, classic races start at 11 a.m. and should wrap up by 3 or 4 p.m. The format of the races has yet to be decided due to snow conditions.
Pothast said the community can help make the event a success by volunteering to help with the race. About 25 or 35 volunteers are needed. There is a Google document at both tsalteshi.org and Tsalteshi’s Facebook page for volunteers to sign up.
Freezer Food Series
The series started with four running races, then four biking races, and now moves on to ski races. The races will be Sunday, and also Jan. 27 and Feb. 10 at 2 p.m. Sunday’s race will be at the Wolverine trailhead off Kalifornsky Beach Road.
Jordan Chilson, board member for the trails association, said the ski races are for racers as well as those looking to get out and enjoy a community ski. The series encourages donations to the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank. Members pay $5 with donation and $6 without donation, while nonmembers pay $10 with donation and $12 without donation.
Registration starts at 1:30 p.m. and course details are posted each week on Tsalteshi’s Facebook page.
Ski for Women
There will be no Freezer Food Series race on Feb. 3 because the trail system will be hosting the 15th annual Ski for Women at the Skyview Middle School trailhead. The race starts at 11 a.m. to allow everybody to get home for the Super Bowl. Costumes are encouraged.
While the 11 a.m. race is for women only, Chilson said men are encouraged to show up and race in the drag race immediately following the women’s race as a kind of Freezer Food Series substitute.
Preregistration is available until midnight the night before the race at tsalteshi.org. Preregistration is $20 for members and $25 for nonmembers. Race-day registration is $35 for both.
Kenai Peninsula Borough meet
High school racers from across the borough will compete at Tsalteshi on Feb. 16.
Tour of Tsalteshi
It all builds to the second annual Tour of Tsalteshi, which will be held Feb. 17.
“All the races feed into each other, but the Tour of Tsalteshi is really the only citizen ski marathon here locally,” said Steve Cothran, the rage organizer. “We felt like that was lacking in years past, so we wanted to provide a culminating event to the Nordic ski racing calendar.”
Cothran said the tour is hoping to build on last year.
“To be honest, we were just blown away,” he said. “We had 79 people register and show up on race day. It went better than we could have hoped and we’re hoping this year is another good year.
“I think it’s great to have the winter Nordic community we have here.”
There will be several tweaks. The 40-kilometer race will start at 11:30 a.m., but the 20K classic and skate races will start shortly thereafter so 40K racers do not overtake as many 20K racers on the trails.
With the aim of bringing as many people out as possible, a 20K classic division has been added and members of the Kachemak Nordic Ski Club and Seward Nordic Ski Club get the same discount as Tsalteshi Trails Association members.
Registration is at touroftsalteshi.org. Registration before Feb. 1 is $25 for members, $35 for nonmembers and $15 for students. Registration then jumps to $35 for members and $45 for nonmembers, but stays $15 for students. Online registration stops 5 p.m. the day before the race, with race-day registration at $40 for members, $50 for nonmembers and $15 for students.
There are no refunds in the event of cancellation, but racers can apply the money to next year.
The first 100 entries receive a free Tour of Tsalteshi buff and the awards ceremony will once again be held at Kenai River Brewing.
“It’s a reason to get out there and enjoy the wonderful Tsalteshi Trails,” Cothran said. “It’s a blessing this community has and it’s a chance to appreciate that and celebrate that.”